All photos: IMDb
Following some less-than-stellar DC movies (looking at you, Batman V. Superman),Aquaman, the latest big-budget installment in the DC Extended Universe, delivers a good time and genuinely fun movie-going experience.
Like many origin stories, it starts back in time, with Aquaman, aka Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), recounting the tale of his parents’ meeting, providing voiceover as it plays out on screen. His father, Tom (Temuera Morrison) is a human lighthouse keeper who rescues his mother, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), the queen of Atlantis, when she washes up on his beach. The pair, “one of the land, one of the sea,” shouldn’t fall in love but—shocker—they do. With the exception of an uncomfortable moment where Atlanna eats a live goldfish, the love story is endearing. You watch a young Arthur growing up, hearing stories about both the land and the sea.
Then, the happy family is shattered when the Atlanteans discover Atlanna and force her to return to her life in the sea. This leaves poor Arthur motherless and a bit of an outcast (although he’s an outcast who can talk to sharks, which he and his classmates discover during a trip to the aquarium).
Fast forward a few decades, and we find Arthur in his post-Justice League life, performing occasional acts of heroism and enjoying time with his father, drinking at the bar, and generally staying under the radar.
During one act of heroism, while rescuing a submarine that is under siege by pirates, he makes a powerful enemy. Arthur chooses not to rescue a trapped pirate, despite knowing the submarine will explode and kill him. The pirate’s son-slash-fellow-pirate (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) vows to avenge his father’s death, which ultimately leads to him adopting a new identity later in the movie: Black Manta.
However, this is just the secondary conflict in the film–the primary issue is that Arthur’s half-brother, King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren), is ruling Atlantis with an iron fist, is preparing to declare war on the surface world, and plans to use that war as a means to take over other underwater civilizations and achieve ultimate power.
Mera (Amber Herd), comes to the surface and begs Arthur to challenge his brother for the throne, a task he originally refuses. Ultimately, he relinquishes, and with help from Mera and his childhood mentor, Vulko (Willem Dafoe), goes on a globetrotting quest to retrieve the lost Triton of Atlantis and take over as ruler. He faces a variety of challenges along the way, including an intense fight with Black Manta.
Plenty of action sequences, battles, and one somewhat-decent (although not entirely surprising) plot twist ensue, with a post-credit scene that leaves things open for the already-announced sequel.
The movie works, generally speaking, because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Striking a tone more akin to Marvel’s Iron Man or Ant Man, Arthur’s well-placed one-liners and general reluctance to be a hero make him a more relatable and fun character to watch.
The movie’s visuals are impressive, too—not only shirtless Momoa, but also the epic CGI battles and underwater effects. It would be easy for Atlantis in its entirety to look too fake, but it doesn’t.
Another plus is that the movie stands on its own. Although Mera mentions Arthur’s role in defeating Steppenwolf (which happened in Justice League), it isn’t necessary information—being a DCEU first-timer wouldn’t hinder your understanding of the plot.
Speaking of Mira, her character is another positive aspect for the movie. She fills the requisite “attractive-sidekick-turned-romantic-interest” role, but turns the trope on its head in many ways. She’s no damsel in distress—she saves Arthur’s life more than once, holds her own in the many fight sequences, and even has a relatively sensible outfit (when she’s above water, at least). She’s the one who grew up on the world of Atlantis, so it’s refreshing to see the movie understand this, utilize her knowledge, and make her a multi-dimensional character.
Despite these positives, the movie does, at times, come off as awkward or corny, especially in its more serious moments. The sudden inclusion of Pitbull’s “Ocean to Ocean” after almost an hour of score-only soundtrack, for example, was jarring, and some of the dialogue comes off as a bit melodramatic.
Yet, if you go into Aquaman expecting a fun superhero flick and remember the suspension of disbelief that comes with a movie about super-humans in an underwater city, you’ll leave the theater pleased.